How do we ensure we are meeting those community and stakeholder expectations?
with Janelle Easthope, City of Bayswater.
Community engagement is a rapidly evolving practice and engagement professionals are busy people. So how often do we take the time to step back and review how we do business? At the City of Bayswater we have recently undertaken a complete review of our community engagement practice and even we are surprised at how much we enjoyed the process.
One of the things that community engagement practitioners have in common is our ability to adapt and evolve – in response to community expectations; new and innovative methods; best practice; legislation. Alongside this, we are also incredibly busy ‘doing’ – planning, delivering, evaluating and reporting on the many projects we work on. So how do we ensure we are meeting those community and stakeholder expectations? How do we make sure our practice is up to date, efficient and effective?
This was weighing on my mind a lot. I felt that I was so busy ‘doing’, that perhaps I wasn’t making sure the fundamentals of our practice (think policy, processes and resources), were up to date and fit for purpose. On the whole, our organisation had come a long way with our engagement practice, but were we equipped to take things to the next level? After all, community engagement now firmly has a seat at the table – we need to make sure we are well prepared.
Every now and then it is important to push pause (or at least carve out some time), look at the big picture and review our practice. Whether you’re a sole practitioner, in a not-for-profit organisation, government agency or something else altogether, it’s important that we take a critical and objective look at how we work and make any changes or improvements necessary.
Fortunately, the time was right for us at the City of Bayswater to undertake a review of our practice – a no holds barred, full review and re-vamp of our engagement policy, strategy and everything beyond. Everything was on the table and we welcomed the opportunity to pull it apart, reflect on where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and produce a framework that is equipped to take us forward. This was quite liberating – approaching this with an open mind and genuine desire and commitment to improvement, made this an enjoyable and fulfilling task.
So what made this a successful process?
1. Our approach was collaborative, engaging our staff, our community, our decision makers – we genuinely and openly invited constructive feedback about our practice. After all, what kind of engagement person would I be if we didn’t seek input from our stakeholders! We asked:
- What are people’s past experiences? What worked, what didn’t?
- Looking ahead, what are their expectations?
- How can we better reach, engage and keep informed those lesser-heard stakeholders in our community? What are the barriers and opportunities?
- How can we better provide information and data to our decision makers, to help them make decisions?
- How do we empower our project teams to plan, implement, evaluate and report on their engagement activities?
- What are the knowledge and information gaps and how do we fill these?
It was exciting to be talking about engagement and heartening that people showed so much interest in it. And this interest validated our decision to undertake the review.
Importantly, this collaboration wasn’t just a moment in time, it is an ongoing commitment to continuing these relationships.
2. The review was all-inclusive – everything was on the table. After all, if one part of the practice was faulty, the whole thing wouldn’t work properly. From high level policy and strategy, to the nuts and bolts templates, the review covered it all.
3. Approaching this review with a genuine desire and commitment to improving our practice, was fundamental. I have found at times that reviews can be approached with an element of defensiveness, of wanting to justify how things have always been done. Or it can simply be a tick-box exercise. But this approach doesn’t serve anyone well. We were keen to find out how we can do better.
4. Once the review was complete, we made a promise to implement actions to make improvements and deliver on our framework. No box-ticking here – we are excited to dive in and make the changes.
With the conclusion of the formal review, we are now embarking on the work to be done from here. We are committed to honouring our promise and are getting on with the improvements to our processes, our documents and the other components of our practice.
While we are enjoying the opportunity to revise everything and make positive changes to our practice, it is the knowledge that what we are doing meets the needs and expectations of those that we work with that is most important.
So if you haven’t had an opportunity in a while to take a step back and review your practice, I encourage you to do so. Who knows, you might just enjoy it.